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Saturday, July 13, 2024

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Retro Review: RBI Baseball (NES)

A while ago, I reviewed RBI Baseball 17 on the Nintendo Switch and thought it sucked. After I went over it, though, I thought about how it stands as an installment in the series. While I would likely review the inevitable RBI Baseball 18 to see if any improvements are made, I’ve never played any older entry. I kept wondering if the things that dragged down 17 were always there from the get-go, or if they were newly brought in out of incompetence. So you know what I decided to do? I played the NES title that started it all.

Well, by “started it all” I mean the series specifically. Baseball video games have been fairly widespread throughout the industry’s history, even if these recent years haven’t seen much in action. RBI Baseball, however, was the first under the MLBPA license. What benefits did it get out of using the license? Well, they got to use actual player names, and um…that’s it. Then again, this was the ’80s. There was only so much the tech was capable of at the time, and the MLB itself didn’t catch onto the series until later.

RBI Baseball consists of standard baseball fare. You have the usual 1P and 2P modes, but you also get the opportunity to watch a game. Yeah! Who needs cable when you have a primitive Nintendo box to give you on-demand baseball action?!

I guess they meant well.

But since this is a video game, that means we have to look at how the game plays. RBI Baseball has the player control one of two teams, and after every three Outs, the teams have to switch sides. One side focuses on batting, and the other has pitching and fielding. You run, you bat, you pitch, you throw, you catch, etc. It seems like it could be great because the action is quickly paced and arcade-like.

Batting wasn’t all too bad because unlike the new game, I actually managed to hit home runs well enough. I was able to feel the ball being hit and I could adjust my position to better learn how to strike it harder. Unfortunately, once I start to go to the pitchers’ side, my enthusiasm gets converted into sheer frustration as the AI is constantly ten steps ahead of me. I was pleased with myself when I got six runs, but then the opponents were quickly able to do the same after hitting nearly all of my pitches.

Of course, the other logical thing to do would be to catch the ball before it lands on the field. Too bad the fielders control like absolute crap! The ball moves faster than anyone on the field even when moving on the ground, so running up to the ball is an issue on its own. You have to memorize everyone’s position so you ensure you don’t initially make a wrong move and cost yourself the round. If you’re running bases, however, you may lose anyway because the AI knows exactly when the ball will land. There was also a bug that occurred where even when I wasn’t retreating to a previous base, the AI would somehow make a double play by tossing the ball to a fielder occupying the same base as the guy I’m in control of. Yet, this same bug shows up in RBI Baseball 17.

It was then I ended up realizing my experience with the original RBI Baseball is roughly like that of RBI Baseball 17. Not all of the same issues are present throughout both experiences, but what’s there equates to the same amount of annoyances. What baffles me is how much it does indeed feel the same in the wrong ways. Did no one think there should be improvements made to the gameplay? Throughout any of the 30-ish years this series has gone on for? Am I missing something here?

Maybe someday, there will be a new baseball series that isn’t exclusive to a Sony platform. Or perhaps if RBI Baseball 18 becomes a thing, it will somehow jinx my lost hopes and actually become a solid game to play.¬†Whether it be retro-styled or a modern take, I’m willing to have whatever as long as it proves to be a fun game of baseball. As is, it’s just a shame I can’t find it here.

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